The “plantation” problem

I feel like most of us, especially eventers, have probably seen what went down on Eventing Nation yesterday right? If not, here ya go. Read all the comments too, they’re important. See both sides. It’s only fair.

Eventing Nation broaching the topic of the possibly offensive event name culminated in the property owner feeling personally attacked (he felt as if he was being called racist), terminating the lease with the organizing group, and essentially cancelling the sport of eventing at his facility indefinitely. That termination happened a couple days before EN published their article, explaining what had gone down and why they had approached the topic of changing the event name in the first place. The cancellation of future Plantation Field events is a huge loss for the sport, and a situation where there really are no winners.

I saw a lot of emotional people and knee-jerk reactions after this came to light, which is understandable. I get that. And while I (shockingly, I’m sure) have so much to say about this I could probably write a novel, instead I mostly wanted to shine a light on a few things that other people have had to say. Opinions that are significantly more important and relevant than my own. Thoughts and feelings that we shouldn’t be ignoring, and that shouldn’t get lost in the other thousands of comments. Before we speak, we have to listen.

“But in my experience, when people won’t welcome feedback about the language they use that impacts people of color, I can rest assure they wouldn’t welcome me either.”. Let that sink in for a second.

“The word plantation makes me and many other poc uncomfortable”

I also suggest reading this article, if you’d truly like to understand the issue a bit more and why it’s so extremely relevant at this particular moment in history:

‘Not a Welcoming Name’: Calls to Drop ‘Plantation’ Gain Steam Nationwide

I also ask you to consider a few points regarding EN in particular, who is shouldering the entirety of the blame from many:

  • EN stated months ago that they were dedicated to the issues of diversity and inclusivity in eventing. They’ve written and published plenty about it. The cause and their stance on it shouldn’t be a surprise.
  • As a media outlet, they do have the benefit of the power of the press, theirs to wield as they so choose. There is plenty of precedent for this. They also have the added responsibility of knowing just how much their own words matter, particularly within the current movement.
  • It was only a matter of time before Plantation Field and the event organizers were confronted with this question and these pressures, regardless of the source. EN may have been the first, but they won’t be the last. Is anyone who questions it going to get “cancelled”?
  • EN can only use their voice to bring awareness to the issue, they cannot control the reaction or the outcome.
allyship by Jerilyn Hassell Pool | Black lives matter movement, Black lives  matter, How to become

It’s also clear that many many people who originally declared themselves “allies” need to understand what allyship really means and that it isn’t just performative. I’m discouraged to see so many be so quick to jump ship when it meant that they too actually had to pay the piper in some way. Allyship doesn’t just stop at words. Losing something for standing up for what you think is right… it sucks. But I have to ask: are we not in this situation now both as a society and as a sport because we’ve spent too long standing idly by, unwilling to rock the boat, unwilling to ask the hard questions, unwilling to address the elephant in the room, and unwilling to stand firm, have courage, and actually risk losing something ourselves? It’s one thing to “say”… there is little risk in that. It’s another thing to “do”, especially when you yourself have a lot on the line.

For those who keep posting the dictionary definition of a plantation, as if that somehow proves it isn’t racist, I have to ask you this: how would you feel if there was an event called Swastika Farm Horse Trials? Before you roll your eyes, hear me out. A swastika is another thing that technically does not have a racist meaning by definition, but the symbolism within a certain group is undeniable. Here’s the dictionary definition of swastika:

Okay, so now imagine that the word “plantation” created the same feelings in you that the word “swastika” does (or at least should, for god’s sake). Seriously. Set your emotion and defensiveness and personal perspective aside and imagine it, just for a second. Imagine that every time you saw the word, or rolled through those gates, you got that visceral reaction of discomfort, sadness, subjugation, and not feeling welcome or wanted. If a group of people is standing in front of us telling us how something makes them feel, it’s not up to us to tell them that they shouldn’t feel that way, or to throw out a dictionary definition. It’s up to us to listen and try to understand.

My hope is that once emotions settle and some perspective is gained, the “powers that be” that are involved in putting on this event can sit down together (along with some of our BIPOC community) and have a meaningful conversation, and reach a suitable resolution for everyone. Whether you agree with it or not, whether you approve of how it was done or not (which no one knows the exact details save for a very few people, so how bout we ease up on the “I don’t have a problem with what they were trying to do but I don’t agree with how it was done” thing), EN has done a bold, brave thing, one that has gained them few friends and many enemies. They’ve done exactly what they promised to do, even though it was certainly the hard thing and not the easy one. But I know one thing for sure: if we really want change, if we truly DO want to be inclusive in our sport, we have to stand for something. That means stand for it in the storm, too, not just in fair weather. And yes, when you take the risk to truly, relentlessly, unwaveringly stand for something, you sometimes risk losing something else in the process too.

40 thoughts on “The “plantation” problem

  1. I was pretty thoroughly chewed up and spit out over in the comments. I suggested it is only through the lens of white privilege and gaslighting that we can tell POC that words don’t mean to them what they tell us they mean to them. Oh no…it’s not that kind of “plantation.” See, that makes it all ok. Anyway, thanks for being a voice.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. His reaction plus Phillip Duttons. Both originally Aussie’s (plus white males) and unlikely to fully comprehend the depth of pain that can be triggered by those words. I wonder if they’d be so willing to stand by these guns if there was a farm in Australia called Stolen Generation. Utterly incredible to me that they cannot recognise why this is problematic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Woodge is really the only one I’ve seen who posted a thoughtful response. It feels like all the UL riders have been so used to ass kissing Denis and Cuyler that they literally can’t bring themselves to mull it over and see it from another perspective.

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  2. As usual, I applaud what you’ve said here. Drawing the comparison to the word ”swastika” is very apt, and you’re right, that would never stand.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that we can’t tell others, “you shouldn’t feel that way.” As a white person I’m NEVER going to understand what it’s like to navigate this world as a POC. I simply never gave a thought to the name of this venue before. But learning people are/have been offended doesn’t surprise me, and I’m certainly not going to argue about it.

    It’s very disappointing that the owner decided to cancel, though. It’s an enormous disappointment to a lot of people who have worked hard and prepared to get there, and doubtless will impact the livelihood of trainers and professionals. The only way I can forgive him for this is that the name-change did come up rather late in the game, and he hardly could be expected to redo all the graphics in time or even the legal documents.

    I truly hope that a compromise can be reached in the future. In the meantime, we have one more example of how the horse world needs to own up to its often not-very-subtle racism and ironclad resistance to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The event at PF this weekend is still happening. It’s all future events that have been cancelled. According to insiders the subject of the name change was broached earlier this summer.

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  3. I have felt sick over this since yesterday reading the comments. It is so disappointing to see big names in our sport make comments supporting plantation and even asking for the usea to apologize en masse to the venue. I have had to unfollow several riders I had previously thought “got it” and it is heartbreaking. As a white woman, I feel less and less inclined to support or engage in eventing in any form, I can’t even imagine how POC must be feeling (although I am seeking out and listening to any who wish to speak out!) Eventing Nation was right on in asking for this change. As we have discussed, being an ally means stepping in and doing the work so POC don’t have to do it all – and this is what they did. I do hope they can come together and resolve it, but in truth I have very little faith left.

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  4. This entire thing has been so upsetting, mostly because as you mentioned, the awareness that these people are not allies whatsoever. There are so many UL riders I am disgusted with right now. Thank you for using your platform to spread the word.

    I can not get over how many eventers care more about losing an event than they are about making the sport more inclusive. It is the absolute example of their elitism and priviledge.

    I can’t understand how they can’t see, that if they want eventing to grow in the general public, we cant go around having events named things like “Plantation” in this day in age. They only have themselves to blame for the death of the sport.

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  5. The comparison to the word swastika is well done. It instantly turned a visceral reaction in my gut! If that doesn’t make people think and feel and help them better understand some of the issues with words/language causing discomfort, then I’m not sure what will.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve been waiting all morning to read your post as I knew you would put things eloquently. I was impressed with how you didn’t let anger boil over, I’m REALLY struggling with that.
    I’m disappointed in myself in that I have always questioned the name Plantation Field but never done anything about it. I always thought it was odd and inappropriate, but then, I figured that since it was in Pennsylvania, and not the south, Plantation meant something else. Not what I associated it with- slavery. And I never pushed on those thoughts further. Just went about my day. I’m so proud of EN for taking a stand where I didn’t. For being a voice, a reasonable and rational voice as far as I can tell, and being a leader where there clearly aren’t others.
    The fact that a bunch of white privledged equestrians are not thinking about anything but themselves, and “their” sport, saddens me, and honestly, gives me extreme anxiety about the future of this country. I can’t read the comments on the feed anymore. I thought eventers were “my people” but I am finding I have very little in common with them in the grand scheme of things.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This: “If a group of people is standing in front of us telling us how something makes them feel, it’s not up to us to tell them that they shouldn’t feel that way, or to throw out a dictionary definition. It’s up to us to listen and try to understand.”

    My town’s regional high school recently has been having the battle to change the mascot. As they are the Valley Warriors. Yes that’s right. A Native American Chief. The people fighting to keep it need to read your words. Thankfully they were overruled and we’ll be getting a new mascot.

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    1. The high school a mile from me used to be the Rebels and had part of the confederate flag in their mascot design. And I live in Oregon. They changed to the Red Hawks a couple of years ago and people had a major fit, threatening to pull their kids and what not. I just don’t get it

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      1. I don’t either. What are they so attached to?!
        My own high school had the White Knight as their mascot… Obviously, these days they are just the Knights. I don’t remember any kerfluffle about dropping the first part.

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      2. Unfortunately this is terribly common. My high school was the Rebels with a confederate soldier painted in the back hallway and used on all our alumni items. By the time I went there it was a quietly acknowledged thing… But they officially called themselves Rebels for ‘The Rebel Pope’. Oh. That’s right. This was a religious school. 🤦🤬

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  8. I just spent a lot of time reading every comment on the EN article and I am absolutely appalled. I will add myself to the list of people that didn’t take the name Plantation Field the way that a lot of people did. But after reading the article I now understand that the name needs to change and it is offensive to people due to the connotations of the words slavery and plantation. To blame EN solely for the demise of the event is absolutely absurd. We may not know all of the details of the end of the lease between the owner and the event, but I don’t think they are our business to know. The land owner had every right to terminate the lease based solely upon the name and we can’t blame that just on EN.

    We have a local high school in Manhattan, KS whose mascot is the Indians. Not a politically correct term in the least, but a lot of people think the name should remain due to the amount of time it has been in existence. I think it should instead be an opportunity to come out on the right side of history.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I saw the initial EN post and was thrilled to read it. Somehow I had missed the follow up. WOW.

    Of important note and distinction: EN did not say “you have to change the name!!!” They reached out for a dialogue about how to refer to the event in their reporting, given that they were uncomfortable using the word “plantation.” I think that’s perfectly within bounds for a news organization. The organizer’s response was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of proportion to that.

    Obviously there’s the immediate grappling with the deep-seated structural racism of equestrian sports, but I think we also have a problem right along side that showing up here: so much of our large venues are so tightly connected to people with money and power. People who obviously love the sport – but who also get very irritated when that power is challenged, and would rather throw tantrums than engage. That’s a vulnerable point that has to be addressed so that the sport can truly be welcoming and inclusive. Otherwise, those with power will keep guarding it.

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    1. I just went to read through about 1/3 of the comments on the EN post and WOW I want to go take another shower. That…that is a lot of racism. Like a lot. A LOT a lot. Goddamn, eventing, do better.

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  10. I have not been able to find the comments on this. Can anyone provide a link?
    Also — thanks again, Amanda, for another thoughtful post on a controversial subject. You rock!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I can see that a name change was needed, even coming from a west coast forestry background where we have plantations of every sort of tree and that’s always been my primary association with the word. Your quote from Dolly echos my sentiments on that. Renaming an event can’t be too difficult, they change title sponsors often enough and seem to figure it out!

    I’m a bit stuck in the middle because I can also see how the land owner might want nothing to do with any of the name calling and drama and just go back to enjoying his land and it’s history as he likes. I can’t find it in me to judge that – it sounds like he’s always been very generous in sharing his property with the equestrian community. I’m confused actually as to how the owner is involved with the event name…I mean, I understand at least that part of his land is named PF but wouldn’t the event organizers/group leasing the land have influence in what they want to name the events there? I know I go to a lot of events and shows where the event is named one thing, but the property is something else.

    I think people are upset with EN because I think we all would hope there was a missed opportunity there to gently push for change of the name of the event without it getting to the point where the owner and organizers were getting flak online and through the media. I’d like to hope that’s the reasoning they want to be done with it, rather than a refusal to consider a simple name change.

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    1. I just had a chance to read some of the comments on the EN Facebook page. I found the condescending and mean replies to a 12-year-old girl particularly heinous. WTAF, people?? No wonder non-horsepeople think of equestrians, especially in certain disciplines, as elitist, entitled snobs. Wow.

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  12. I have been in way too many discussions re. language and how asking for change is “going too far!!”.
    It is just more proof that the people claiming smth is not offensive or racist just are too comfortable with the Status Quo. They are happy with their privilege and are too lazy to do the work..
    After all, if it is “just a word” they don’t need to get fired up about it, do they? Why fight so hard for things to remain exactly as they are?
    The swastika comparison is smth I like to use as well. It works even better with my fellow germans than americans. But if it gets even one person thinking I will count that as a win.

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  13. To me. The word “plantation” conjures up images of wealth, prestige, and privilege. It also conjures up images of many laborers who make the plantation what it is. I come from Appalachia, and my grandparents had a small farm. My grandfather had my grandmother and my mother to help him. The word “plantation” intimidates me and makes me feel line an
    Outsider.

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  14. The EN article was very thoughtful and well-written. I’m so disgusted by the sheer number of willfully ignorant comments on EN’s page. It makes me very sad for our sport.

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  15. This conversation is along the same lines as changing the names of locations, schools, roads, etc. that are named after Confederate leaders. If you can understand one, the other is actually not that hard at all to understand as well.

    Words are not “just words” because if that was the case, I could walk around cursing like a sailor all the time. We naturally censor ourselves depending on the context. Most words can probably fall under the category of just being words, but specific words have weight and connotation beyond their dictionary meaning. Again, this isn’t hard to understand. Someone on the EN post made a similar swastika comparison but used Auschwitz instead, and some lint brained racist argued that it would be okay to have a stable named after a concentration camp because everyone has the freedom to pick where they want to ride and you don’t have to ride there if you don’t like the name.

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    1. I like to use the dictionary definition of “bitch”. We can all agree a female dog is a good thing, but using that word on a person is incredibly offensive. We all know this.

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  16. Well said!

    I am deeply saddened at the character of the backlash against EN. Unfortunately I don’t think those attitudes are confined to eventing.

    People don’t seem to grasp that EN didn’t cancel the event. One cranky old man did. No one could have anticipated such a reaction.

    The swastika is a great analogy. It predates the Nazis by around 1,000 years, but that no longer matters . The perception now is what matters.

    So many of the “plantation” comments condemn people for “not knowing the local history “. Of course most people don’t know the local history. They never will. It’s the perception that matters.

    You do great summaries of important issues. Interested in your future thoughts on wherever this goes next.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. An excellent summation.

    Is there an official response from the event organizers? I have not seen that, though it certainly may be out there.

    As I understand it, they are solely responsible for the name of the event. I understand that changing the name this year is/was not really practical, though I am unclear on the details involved. Surely a perfectly logical and uncontroversial name could be agreed upon going forward?

    There are a few fairly flimsy reasons to cling to the old name, and many better reasons to change it. Who or what does changing the name hurt? It is patently clear that whether or not you agree with them, that not changing the name causes genuine harm to a number of people. Why is anyone determined to cling to a name that hurts anybody? So change it for next year, and maybe we can preserve the event while not hurting our fans and participants of color. We need more, not fewer of them. Lets be a bit more inviting.

    We can rename the event, and let the property owner make his own decisions. He has legitimate reasons to use the name on his private property. If the conversation can be civil, we can perhaps convince him to change the name.

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  18. Hey all, EN editor and $900 Facebook Pony superfan Leslie Wylie here. In the midst of getting burned at the stake I just want to express how much Amanda’s post and all of your thoughtful, empathetic, rational comments have meant to me and the EN team. It gives me a lot of hope and reason to want to keep fighting for this sport that I am so honored every day to have the opportunity to work in the service of, because it has given me so much on a personal level. THIS is the sort of community that I want for our sport. Let’s rise above and keep it up. All my love to you all.

    Go Eventing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So, here’s the problem I have with EN and the article. When the change you demanded to happen didn’t occur in the timeline you wanted, then you threatened to go public. When the organization and farm still didn’t do what you wanted them to do, then you made good on your threat. The land owner’s statement is that he refused to be accused of and linked to racism, especially as the past history of this land shows anything but racism. Was it over-reaction to cancel the lease and shut it down? I don’t think so. The political climate being what it is in this nation at this time, if anyone dares disagree with the “woke crowd,” regardless of why you may disagree, then you are immediately labeled and branded with the worst. There’s just so much lost opportunity here for a good dialogue between all parties. However, ultimately, the land is owned by a private party, and freedom of speech is what it is here in this country, so he has every right to not change the name and to cancel the lease. That doesn’t mean that I agree with him, or think the name should stand. I mean, come on, the word plantation of COURSE conjures up the images of slaves working in fields of cotton. There is absolutely opportunity to change the name of the event, and possibly the organization or farm if so desired, while maintaining historical value of the property. But, forcing an agenda on an organization and demanding it be done by your timeline has now slammed that door shut. I applaud the fact that you took up this mantle, and I stand with you in your desire to right previous wrongs and protect (and welcome!) all persons to the sport. But, the way this went down was a definite misstep. JMHO.

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  19. One of the posts mentioned that the place had two previous names before this one. It has made me wonder why there couldn’t have been compromise. If the landowner wants to continue to call his property ‘Plantation Field’ for whatever reason, why couldn’t the event organizers rename the event to exclude the venue name? We all used to say ‘Rolex’ and not ‘Kentucky horse Park’ and we say ‘The Fork’ not Tryon. Just wondering why the event couldn’t have a different name to the venue – surely that would have been a win-win for all concerned and kept the owner and his family out of things which was obviously his main concern. There is no hard and fast rule that says an event has to follow the name of the place – especially if the name has connotations that can cause pain and make participants feel unwelcome. I’m just surprised there was no attempt to try and make a workable situation before burning it all down. Sadly it seems a reflection of the whole country right now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree, there’s definitely a compromise possible here. I hope that once emotions settle people can come back to the table to talk it out and find a solution that suits everyone.

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    2. My thought also. Wasn’t it called Logan Field at some point? Or if they want to commemorate the Boy Scouts for planting the trees use some form of that.

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  20. I think that EN made a mistake when they said that they wouldn’t use the word “plantation” in news coverage of the current event. That public stance backed the owners into a corner and, as often happens with ultimatums, that tactic backfired. I have worked in organizational change consulting for many years and there are ways to handle an issue such as this. First, you do research with your constituencies or members to have facts about the situation. Then you meet in person (and privately) with key stakeholders to understand points of view and to discuss possible outcomes/compromises. Listening and talking takes time and oftentimes discussion facilitation to keep things civil and productive. To me, all this public discourse and decisions have felt rushed and knee-jerk on all sides. A better approach might have been for the current event and the media coverage of it left unchanged, with an agreement to discussion and possible changes going forward. I think everyone ultimately wants to support Eventing and to make it welcoming to all.

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